Some at RBHS choose to sit during pledge

Students explain why they stay seated during morning ritual

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By Bob Skolnik

Contributing Reporter

More than a few Riverside-Brookfield High School students, including this year's homecoming queen, are protesting racial inequality by refusing to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance as it is read each morning over the school intercom during the morning announcements, immediately after the state-required moment of silence. 

"The reason I don't stand for the pledge is because, in the pledge when it says 'for liberty and justice for all,' I don't feel like that's accurate," said senior Coretta Dishmon who was elected RBHS's first black homecoming queen in September. 

Dishmon said that five or six students in her first period sociology class remain seated during the pledge.

Refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance started becoming more common at RBHS last year as students followed the lead of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who began kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem before NFL games last year to protest police violence against black people. 

"I just think that it's my little way of just protesting the injustice that happens towards my race in this country, and I feel like a lot of people misinterpret it as disrespect or rudeness when that's not the case at all," said RBHS senior Tosin Olowu who began not standing for the pledge last year and continues not to stand this year. 

Olowu said that a number of students last year in her Advanced Placement U.S. History class did not stand for the pledge. This year she is the only student who does not stand for the pledge in her first period fine arts survey.

Olowu, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Nigeria, said she is proud to be an American but wants to call attention to injustice. She believes that black people and other minorities are disrespected in the United States. She says that she is exercising her rights as an American.

"I was born and raised in America," Olowu said. "I'm very proud to be an American." 

But, many of the RBHS students who do not stand for the pledge are white.

One of them is senior Casey Whisler. 

"I don't stand up for the pledge because there are a lot of things going on in the country today that I don't stand for, especially with our current government, and I think the ideals talked about in the pledge are often contradicted," said senior Casey Whisler. "I don't mean to disrespect anyone who is passionate about saying the pledge, but that's my reason for not standing."

Another is sophomore Kenna Howorth. For Howorth refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance is nothing new. She hasn't stood for the pledge for as long as she can remember, at least since fifth or sixth grade, long before Kaepernick started taking a knee.

She said that she was initially disturbed by the causal rote recitation of the pledge that she observed at S.E. Gross Middle School.

"It just didn't feel quite right to me, because there was no emphasis on the words I was saying," said Howorth. "I didn't quite believe them and I didn't see the people around me being moved by them, so I thought maybe I shouldn't pledge to something nobody really honors anyway."

Last year Howorth did not stand for the pledge in her honors biology class, and this year she sits during the pledge during her first-period wellness class. Because her class is often in the locker room changing during the morning announcements, Howorth said that many students do not stand during the pledge, because they are busy changing into their gym clothes.

"Many people in my PE class don't stand anyway, but I've been making it a point to specifically not stand," Howorth said.

As she has gotten older Howorth says that not standing for the pledge has become a more pointed act for her. 

"This year, it's definitely a political statement," Howorth said. "There are a lot of different factors that go into me not standing for the pledge, but the primary one is the racial inequality in America."

Howorth says it is important for her to show solidarity with people whom she feels are discriminated against. 

"I feel that considering the amount of privilege I have, it's only right for me to sit in solidarity with people of color," Howorth said. "And I feel that the racial inequality is just so blatantly obvious, that if people are going to speak up against that, I want to be one of those people. Even if I am only in high school, it's important to me to be on the right side of history."

Students cannot be forced to stand for the pledge or punished for not doing so. In 1943 the United States Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to compel public school students to salute the flag or say the Pledge of Allegiance.

Howorth said that one teacher at S.E. Gross Middle School frequently told her to stand for the pledge, but she remained seated. 

"I know my rights," said Howorth, who recently wrote an opinion piece in the RBHS school newspaper, the Clarion, explaining why she does not stand for the Pledge of Allegiance as part of a package of stories the Clarion did about the Pledge of Allegiance at RBHS.

Dishmon and Howorth both estimated that perhaps as many as 10 percent of RBHS students don't stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.

RBHS Principal Kristin Smetana and Superintendent Kevin Skinkis did not respond to emails asking for comment about students who don't participate in the morning pledge.

Reader Comments

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Rob Dixon from Rside  

Posted: December 13th, 2017 11:36 AM

Thanks Jon Points for that insight. I always wondered about the "under God" portion when I was a kid with the separation of church and state talk and all. It turns out In 1954, at President Dwight D. Eisenhower's urging, the Congress legislated that "under God" be added. When I was in school some would use the old Matt Groening attributed version of "I plead alignment to the flakes of the untitled snakes of a merry cow and to the republicrats for which they scam: one nacho, underpants with licorice and jugs of wine for owls." Taking a seat requires more courage I suppose.

Jon Points  

Posted: December 10th, 2017 7:38 PM

Brief History of the Pledge: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-man-who-wrote-the-pledge-of-allegiance-93907224/ It was written by a marketing executive.

Jay Aldrich  

Posted: December 10th, 2017 7:31 AM

cont... Kapernick did what he did in part because he was adopted by white parents, because he was given a scholarship to play in college, because lots of white people pay to seem him play, because he's protected by the police while he plays. Just think about it before you get angry at what I just said. There are very few places in the world where this takes place. And remember, the pledge espouses these ideals, if something needs to fixed, we have a justice system, people vote with their dollars. Children you may think you are pawns, but in whose game?

Jay Aldrich  

Posted: December 10th, 2017 7:21 AM

I understand making something mandatory takes some of the essence away from it. Just look at the Lutheran Church in Sweden.These students whether or not they know it are espousing mainstream leftist thought. The identity politics have infected our land and we hardly even recognize it. The fact is America is the least racist country in the world. Kapernick did what did

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: December 9th, 2017 5:08 PM

Lisa Kay, from my experience and how I recall it from grammar school is that it was never explained. You just followed what they told you to do and no one questioned it. You now have proposed an interesting question that may have some person searching for the history

Lisa Kay  

Posted: December 9th, 2017 9:03 AM

I wonder how many of the commenters here complaining that the kids don't know their history are actually aware of the history of the Pledge itself.

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: December 8th, 2017 10:57 AM

Malone Vince, what branch of the Armed Force's were you in because I was in the Army, trained at Fort Polk, and guess which Fort had the most troops deployed to Viet Nam. During those year's, segregation was a terrible problem regardless how the Military tried to explain racism and at the same time instill racial terms regarding the enemy. I never knew those terms until I was trained in the Military. Fortunate, I was with a group that were better educated. Students back home protested the war and it finally came to an end. I certainly hope that today's students keep protesting to make better changes

Malone Vince  

Posted: December 8th, 2017 4:55 AM

Tracy Patton. Their disrespecting the men & women of all color, WHO GAVE THEM THE RIGHT TO USE , THE FIRST AMENDMENT!!! THEY NEED TO BE EDUCATED. RBHS MUST NOT BE DOING THEIR JOBS. EDUCATE YOURSELF ALSO. Proud of them?? I think it's disgraceful and Sad. If these kids are our future?? Lol, better arm Up. It's only gonna get worse & adults or parents who support these kids. Move!! Get out. Leave!! Pretty simple. You think the grass is greener on the other side? By all means, move to that side. Kids today have Zero Clue. So let's let them do as they please on the Blood of are Forefathers . Wake up people.

Malone Vince  

Posted: December 8th, 2017 4:41 AM

Why is Race and Color always thrown in the mix? Want equality. Join the Military!!! You sitters are a disgrace to the men and women of all Race & Color who served for your freedom to do so. And obviously, these kids DO NOT KNOW THIER HISTORY!! IF THEY DID, THEY'D BE STANDING. THIS IS GETTING RIDICULOUS. AND RBHS SHOULD GET A GRIP. THE SCHOOLS LIKE A JUNGLE. Sadly people abuse their Rights. And don't acknowledge their Wrongs or others Wrongs. What is sitting at a HS going to do for your beliefs?? Nothing. Get you in the Landmark !!! Shame on you kids and the parents who support them.

Jon Points  

Posted: December 7th, 2017 9:07 PM

It is obvious that these students know their history rather well. Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance is only one of many ways people can show their support for the United States, but it is hardly patriotic. Pledging an allegiance to a flag does not equate patriotism. Taking a stand against reciting the Pledge of Allegiance because one feels the country they so love has lost its moral footing is so much more patriotic than mindless regurgitation of words. We would still be paying the tea tax if people did not take a stand against injustice.

Rita Kuzmenko  

Posted: December 7th, 2017 4:27 PM

I am so proud of those students. Good for them. I hope this motivates many of them to go into politics and make our country the best it can be for all genders, races, and nationalities.

Matt Wilson from Brookfield  

Posted: December 7th, 2017 3:57 PM

Couldn't say it better than Joanne Schaeffer said it above. They must not know their history.

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: December 7th, 2017 10:50 AM

"I know my rights," said Howorth. If you know your rights then there can't be inequality that you say there is. Take time to learn for yourself how many great African American men and women made America better when there really was inequality

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: December 7th, 2017 10:43 AM

Joanne Schaeffer, the constitution gets manipulated. Trump, took away protected Indian land. American troops are in the Middle East, to control the government for very rich people. Viet Nam, was to stop communism. If you support America, don't buy any product from a communist country. America is a so called free country so people can do what they want with limits and they can either stand or not. As an American, you should respect their own rights to stand or not

Joanne Schaeffer from Lyons  

Posted: December 7th, 2017 10:31 AM

The pledge is showing respect for our country and the many who have died protecting that pledge. I thank God that we live in a free country protected by the constitution and am free to pledge my allegiance to the greatest country in the world. It is a shame the disrespect shown the pledge. Perhaps they have not read history enough to realize why we pledge and what it means. As far as equality goes, study hard, work hard, be a good citizen and equality becomes equal.

Bob Jakoubek  

Posted: December 6th, 2017 4:54 PM

Thoughtful, peaceful protest is always proper. Proud of our students for trying to build a more perfect union. Keep it up!

Tracy Patton  

Posted: December 6th, 2017 2:15 PM

Remaining quietly seated is not disrespectful, nor is exercising their first amendment rights.

Mark Roegner  

Posted: December 6th, 2017 9:35 AM

Disrespectful liberals

Carl Nyberg from Chicago  

Posted: December 5th, 2017 8:23 PM

Having students at public schools recite a loyalty oath (voluntary or not) seems contrary to the freedom of conscience values espoused in the First Amendment. But if there's going to be a Pledge of Allegiance, I fully support students modifying the PoA in a way that advances justice.

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